The Violin Concerto and I
In about 1970 I borrowed a book from the library, written many years earlier, which told of the discovery, in mysterious circumstances, of a long lost Violin Concerto by Schumann.
On my next visit to the HMV store in Oxford Street, London, where I was a frequent and well-known customer, I asked one of the usually knowledgeable assistants about this. He said that he didn't think that Schumann had written a violin concerto and even if he had, it hadn't been recorded. He was wrong on both counts, but at the time I didn't have the resources to do further research.
So matters rested until about 1975 when in another record store (Farringdon Records) I found a copy of the elusive concerto recorded by Suzanne Lautenbacher on the Vox Turnabout label. I bought it and played it. For the first few times of playing I wasn't sure if I didn't agree with the critics, but slowly but surely I changed my opinion - this was GREAT music. A few years later, I found and bought Vaclav Snitil's Supraphon recording, and by 1984 had Gidon Kremer's first (EMI) offering. By now, not only had Schumann become my favourite composer but the Violin Concerto was my favourite work of all, and the more I played it the more I discovered and loved it. Of the three versions I owned, it was the Snitil that I played the most.
I had read and learnt more about the concerto, about its rediscovery and the first two recordings. The story fascinated me almost as much as the music, because everybody, even those who had revived it, were dismissive; even Snitil declared some passages unplayable and "improved" them, yet to me this was the most glorious piece of music. How could anybody not see it for its true worth?
In 1988, I fell ill, and was to be medically retired two years later. During that period of my life, I found myself listening to the concerto more and more. I sought out and bought a copy of the score (even though I'm not even a musician, let alone a violinist) and set about studying the work, purely for my own interest and to stave off boredom. I felt that every version I had heard so far was flawed. The first, and, especially the third movements were being played much too quickly, and maybe that's why the soloists found them so difficult. The score said they should be played slower. But what did I know about it?
By 1994, I was working again. The Violin Concerto was still frequently played, but wasn't accorded the attention it had during the dark days. I had bought a couple of cheap and frankly disappointing offerings. My passion was revived by a review of a new recording by Gidon Kremer - with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Nikolous Harnoncourt. They recorded the first and third movements at the tempi stated in the score. I bought it. For the third movement in particular, it was an eye opener, especially given that at this stage I was completely unaware of the Rybar recording. All the intricacies, usually edited out to enable a fast pace to be maintained, were revealed in their true glory. Once again, I listened over and over again, every play revealing nuances I hadn't noticed before. It is a magnificent recording not just in the playing but also in the recording quality.
After 2000, the Internet became an ever more important way not only to discover music but to learn about music. I discovered a now deleted Japanese website by a fellow fanatic, which listed all known (to the author) recordings. One that was rated very highly was the 1951 recording by Peter Rybar. The original was (and is) incredibly rare and expensive; I don't own a copy. But the recording was by now (just) 50 years old and out of copyright. I found a free download in the new-fangled mp3 format and listened - again and again and again. Rybar hadn't "corrected" Schumann's writing or tempi. Over 40 years before Gidon Kremer, he recorded a version more or less as Schumann wrote it. I'm still not sure which of these two versions is the greatest recording of the greatest work by the greatest composer. Kremer has the best third movement and Rybar the best second. In the first, Kremer is helped by the far more modern recording, but I suppose I actually listen to the Rybar more often.
In the last ten years or so I have collected, either in CD or MP3 format, roughly fifteen different recordings. Yet only forty years ago, I was told that the work probably didn't even exist! I'm glad it does. It has had a considerable and positive impact on my life. It is said that actions speak louder than words. For me, music speaks louder than words, and this music roars!
Next Page. The Story of the Hidden, Worthless Concerto